Martin Sixsmith

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Martin Sixsmith
Born 24 September 1954
Bolton, England
Nationality British
Education Manchester Grammar School
Oxford University
Occupation writer

Martin Sixsmith (born 24 September 1954) is a British author, Russian scholar, BBC presenter, and former adviser to the Labour government in the United Kingdom. His written nonfiction works have focused on Russian history and current affairs (including Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East, 2012), and in fiction and nonfiction he has addressed political communication in government and the controversy surrounding Catholic Church oversight in Irish adoptions (including Spin, 2005; The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, 2009; and Philomena, with Dame Judi Dench). His story of Irish mother Philomena Lee, who was forced to give up her son for adoption, was the basis for the award-winning feature length film Philomena.

Early life[edit]

Sixsmith was born in Bolton.[1] He was educated at the Manchester Grammar School[2] where he studied Russian to A-level,[3] then at New College, Oxford,[2] Harvard, the Sorbonne University in Paris,[2] and in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), in Russia.[2]


Sixsmith joined the BBC in 1980 where he worked as a foreign correspondent, most notably reporting from Moscow during the end of the Cold War. He also reported from Poland during the Solidarity uprising and was the BBC's Washington correspondent during the election and first presidency of Bill Clinton. He was based in Russia for five years, the US for four, Brussels for four and Poland for three.

Sixsmith left the BBC in 1997[2] to work for the newly elected government of Tony Blair.[3] He became Director of Communications (a civil service post), working first with Harriet Harman[2] and Frank Field, then with Alistair Darling. His next position was as a Director of GEC plc, where he oversaw the rebranding of the company as Marconi plc.

In December 2001, he returned to the civil service to join the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions as Director of Communications in time to become embroiled in the second act of the scandal over Jo Moore. Moore was special adviser to the transport secretary Stephen Byers and had been the subject of much public condemnation for suggesting that a controversial announcement should be "buried" during the media coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks.[4] On 13 February 2002 the row flared up again when a leak to the press alleged that Moore had made further attempts to "bury" unfavourable railway statistics on the day of a major event. It was backed up by a copy of an email from Sixsmith saying "Princess Margaret is being buried [on Friday]. I will absolutely not allow anything else to be".[2] Downing Street initially said the email rebuke did not exist but performed a U-turn on the afternoon of 14 February after it emerged that Sixsmith had indeed sent an email in such terms (although the wording was not accurately reported). Number Ten attempted to "resign him", but had later to issue an apology and pay him compensation. Sixsmith was widely expected to write a memoir[2] or autobiography in the wake of his civil service departure, but was gagged by the government.[2] He published a related novel about near-future politics called Spin, in 2004.[2]

Sixsmith's written and documentary work has focused widely on Russia and the former Soviet Union. His second novel, I Heard Lenin Laugh, was published in 2005.[5] He was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 in 2006 to present a series of programmes on Russian poetry, literature and art. His The Litvinenko File, an examination of the feud between the Kremlin and Russia's émigré oligarchs, appeared in 2007. Two BBC documentaries exploring the legacy of the KGB in today's Russia and the BBC documentary The Snowy Streets of St. Petersburg, about artists and writers who fled the former Eastern bloc, appeared in 2008. Sixsmith's Putin's Oil, about Russia's energy wars and their consequences for Moscow and the world, appeared in 2010. His Russia: The Wild East, a 50-part history of Russia for BBC Radio 4, the last episode of which was broadcast on 12 August 2011,[6] has a companion book published by Random House.[7]

Sixsmith has also given attention to human interest and related aspects of the controversy surrounding Catholic Church oversight in Irish adoptions. The Lost Child of Philomena Lee appeared in 2009, about the forcible separation of a mother (Philomena Lee) and child (Michael A. Hess) by nuns of an Irish convent during the 1950s, and the subsequent attempts of mother and child to contact one another.[8] The book was adapted into the film Philomena, directed by Stephen Frears, starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (as Sixsmith), and written by Coogan and Jeff Pope.[3]

Sixsmith's work in other areas includes serving as an adviser to the BBC political sitcom The Thick of It, and to the Oscar-nominated film In the Loop.[9] In 2014 Sixsmith presented a 25-part BBC Radio 4 series about the history of psychology and psychiatry, "In search of ourselves",[10] beginning on 21 April.


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Sixsmith unspun". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Martin Sixsmith: 'Scared by spin doctors? I've been in war zones'". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  4. ^ ""These Unfortunate Events" – report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration". 
  5. ^ "Spinning the Soviets". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  6. ^ "Russia: The Wild East". BBC. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  7. ^ "Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East". Random House. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  8. ^ Sixsmith, Martin (19 September 2009). "The Catholic church sold my child". The Guardian (London). 
  9. ^ Martin Sixsmith at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ "In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind". BBC. Retrieved 24 May 2015.